Brian Baksa @ University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture + Planning [Studio: Propositions, Critic: Claudia Wigger ]
Terra explores the gradient relationships of being in context, out of context, or somewhere in between. Through material interventions, aggregate scales, and earthwork porosities, the hole offers suggestions of programmatic space and potentials of occupation. It creates soft boundaries between the refined interior and the dynamic environment in which it sits; challenging the line of exterior/interior space while creating new spatial qualities.
This project recontextualizes relationships from the vernacular housing of Procida, Italy; a housing typology that utilizes scaler shifts in thresholds as a way to create inhabitation. Pulling from this precedent, TERRA embarks to discover ways in which material porosities and aggregations can create holes that allow for varying qualities of space. While material applications propose specific types of occupation, ranging from dynamic, raw work rooms to protected sleeping quarters, post-processed holes further reiterate programmatic implications.
What prompted the project?
The project was prompted by Claudia Wigger as a part of the ‘Propositions’ studio at University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. ‘Propositions’ is offered in the 1st year of the M.Arch program, and is designed to engage students in research about the spatial, political, and social frameworks of architecture. Claudia Wigger’s studio specifically explored “The Hole” and the ways in which its operation can be utilized to create spatial and material invention. The goal for the studio was to rethink “The Hole” as an architectural element and to challenge it as a means of restraint, division, material, and a tool for change.
What is your take on the notion of ‘context’ nowadays? To what extent do we operate in a local or global context?
Context is kind of a dichotomy nowadays. With digital connectivity via social media or long-distance connections, we are somewhat removed from direct relationships, but, in contrast, we are then connecting to people we have never had the ability to connect to previously at such great speeds. In Terra, the project approached context in a simplified manner. With a refined material and cove-like arrangement, the bed in Terra is highly removed from the context (the site, the landscape, the earth) in its physical removal from site as well its domestic treatment of the concrete and aggregate. The polished concrete implies a removal from the raw site, but as a material, is inherently referential to the context in which the building sits. In contrast, moments such as the living quarters, where boulders and rocks are forming holes in the walls and working to frame apertures, the relationship from context (site) and interior space is more explicit.
What dictated the use of Procida as speculative testing ground?
In the beginning of the studio, each student was given a precedent study that analyzed ‘The Hole’ in a different manner. The vernacular housing of Procida, Italy was one of those projects and it utilized scaler shifts and layers to create occupiable zones within the threshold; the threshold, of course, being a type of hole in itself. While Terra is sited in Antelope Island in Utah/Arizona, the project reinterprets the public vs private relationship of Procida, Italy to constitute being in context vs. out of context. Both projects attempt to create a soft or gradient boundary between the two distinct zones.
What defined the different mediums through which you explore the project?
I typically like to work with collage because there is an inherent looseness to it that enables imaginative results and explorations. With this project specifically, it was important to understand the spatial outcomes and in order to do so, model making became crucial to the design process. Early sketch models play with the arched opening (pulled form the vernacular housing in Procida, Italy) while later study models looked at material implications.
Some of the conceptual models that were done throughout the design process were done to setup an idea. For instance, the material model sitting in the sand was intended to speak about the material’s ability to replicate the texture of its context, but also to allow a porosity that could begin to challenge the interior and exterior relationship. What happens when a material’s porosity is such that outside environment can infiltrate the interior?
What role do the models hold in relation to the plans and views?
The models, particularly the three concrete samples, offer a physical recognition of the moments illustrated in the plans and collages. Those cast models were used to understand the relationships between the solid surface and the ‘hole’ that is formed from aggregation scales and quantities. When large scale aggregates were used, ‘voids’ appear in the solid surface of the cast. Additionally, I used photographs of the models as templates for linework in plan and section as well as textures and materials in the collages.
How does this project reflect on how you approach architecture and building?
This project helped me explore a new territory of architecture that I had not previous had the chance to dive into. TERRA helped me understand the implications and agencies of material application. The varying mixes of concrete, whether it includes large-scale aggregates or post-processed, material interventions, offer different spatial qualities. The material, itself, has a way of behaving in its own accord when being poured as well. Gravity, formwork, and viscosity allow for dynamic results. Overall, TERRA explores the ways in which the material can determine or suggest how one occupies architectural space.